How Sustainability Dovetails with ISO 14001: Clean and Profitable


In this mini-series, we have looked at reduction (energy and materials) and safety aspects as items to consider in weaving sustainability efforts into an ISO 14001 management system. Our focus now shifts to evaluating opportunities to run clean and profitable plant operations as another vehicle to propel sustainability across the business enterprise.

Clean and profitable operations run the gamut from input to output within all facets of an industrial setting, beginning with incoming raw materials, related physical processes, and culminating with the finished or intermediate products that exit the facility’s door. Both attributes can be viewed as a symbiotic relationship that can have a positive effect on all aspects of a company’s business.

Among considerations to enhance clean, the low-hanging fruit opportunities that are easy to implement within a sustainability-focused ISO 14001 environmental management system (EMS) definitely include recycling programs for all waste products, from scrap that cannot be reused, to office-generated waste. On the plant floor, ensure that accidents and spills are kept at a minimum in handling hazardous liquids, including controlling emissions as best practical and documenting such emissions in EPA-mandated Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) records. Also ensure that proper pressure and fluid levels are maintained for all process machinery and vessels to minimize any process-related releases or spills.

The type of chemicals and process equipment used, and the inherent environmental and safety hazards these can pose, should be part of a hazard communication (HazCom) program that incorporates Right-To-Know as required under OSHA. These need to be followed to ensure as best practical that any of the instances described do not occur.

Another aspect of clean is looking at ways to minimize fossil-fuel energy consumption within the plant or facility by ensuring that plant equipment is running optimally, light sensors are in use where practical, and plant personnel are encouraged to turn off computers and other electrical equipment at the end of the day. For example, reduced lighting requirements by having cleaning crews come in the morning to clean instead of using more lighting after hours.

Any of these considerations can be neatly brought into management control via a well-designed ISO 14001 EMS program – specifically addressing the requirements of ISO 14001 Elements 4.4.1 (roles, responsibilities) and 4.4.2 (training, awareness and competence) - that incorporates appropriate work instructions and tailored training to ensure workers thoroughly understand their work responsibilities and do so in a fashion to protect themselves and minimize any adverse impacts to their immediate – and possibly, outside – environment. Following such instructions should allow them to maintain a clean and profitable operation.

You might also consider using alternative energy generation sources, such as wind and solar installations. While often costly, the green bragging rights can be “priceless.” One organization that implemented an across-the-board sustainable green program is EBSCO Publishing. While the publishing company has a small carbon footprint, the CEO took it upon himself to fund and implement a battery of solar PV arrays on the roof of one building, despite having been turned down by a Massachusetts alternative energy funding agency. What is interesting about this company, an online publisher and repository of print material for academia and organizations, is that it’s not ISO 14001 certified, but its management and staff share a vision to make their organization’s carbon footprint as small as they can through their efforts.
As previously noted, clean and profitable can be symbiotic – even the ROI for implementing solar power generation can be attained within a reasonable time frame given optimal conditions – and the results effectively measured as part of a comprehensive ISO 14001 EMS.
Recapping the suggestions from our exercise in our first installment, where we had previously identified energy consumers and solid waste streams as inputs/aspects for our analysis, we now add the to our table clean/waste minimization/emission-reduction opportunities, energy-saving opportunities, and profit opportunities. The key, then, is to effectively measure how clean and profitable your organization can be using ISO 14001 tools as a guide.

The goal is to identify as many of these opportunities as we can find, and as the analysis progresses, we will eventually set targets and objectives for them within the context of an ISO 14001 analysis. Your efforts to achieve each of these items would be tabulated, and the highest positive values would be listed at the top and measured. The resultant values after a designated reporting period (typically one year) would then be compared to the target and objective values previously set to determine whether these goals were met, or almost met. Such values could also be used as supporting data to validate sustainability metrics.

Good luck and good prospecting!

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